Les Nuits Photographiques/Histoires

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

New Photography:
The Light and Dark Sides

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“Soliloquy I,” inspired by Henry Wallis’s “The Death of Chatterton” (1856). © Sam Taylor-Johnson. Courtesy White Cube Gallery

Do you ever get strong sense of déjà vu – or even intense boredom – when you go to photo exhibitions these days? Do you mourn the general lack of originality of many of today’s photographers? If so, I have the antidote. Go to the exhibition “Histoires” at the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, part of the Festival Les Nuits Photographiques

The idea of the festival is to take still photography a step beyond, whether through video, installations or new technologies. The exhibition, the four-year-old festival’s first, presents work by photographers of different generations, from veteran filmmaker and photographer Sam Taylor-Johnson (a.k.a Taylor-Wood) to young pups Pierre Liebaert and Marcel Meyer.

Liebaert’s installation, “Libre Maintenant,” is the most riveting. Fascinated by the way some men with orderly lives – job, wife, kids – seek out transgressive behavior like having sex with strangers in highway-rest-stop toilets (the subject of his last project), then happily resume their respectable lives, he placed an ad in Brussels asking married men to pose naked for his camera while wearing a mask. The response was overwhelming – over a thousand e-mails.

The first room of the installation sets the stage, with photos of some of the men and copies of some of their emails, censored with blacked-out lines to preserve the anonymity of the subjects. The main event is the video in the next room in which we see and hear some of the subjects as they are being photographed in a cramped hotel room. These middle-aged men, not in their prime form, talk nervously

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“Libre Maintenant” © Pierre Liebaert

while undressing and posing on the bed, mostly about how liberating it is to take a break from everyday life and its social and familial demands, to trade the social mask for the mask of anonymity. Liebaert’s disturbing but fascinating piece may make you feel ill at ease, but you won’t be able to stop watching.

Meyer’s installation makes use of animated GIFs to represent “My Favourite Adult Nightmares.” Unlike most of the GIFs currently proliferating on the Internet,

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“My Favourite Adult Nightmares” © Marcel Meyer

however, Meyer’s are handsome images featuring a man in long underwear lost in dream landscapes with only one or two subtly moving elements.

The dream theme is continued with Taylor-Johnson’s photos, inspired by well-known paintings, in the next room. Like a medieval altarpiece in which the life of a saint is recounted in small images below the main image, the large central photo is complemented by several smaller ones along the bottom, which, while not directly related, appear to arise from the subconscious of the person in the main photo.

Other installations strike a lighter note. Augustin Rebetez’s “Rotor” includes three videos of objects come to life in an abandoned factory that call to mind the mad machines of artist Jean Tinguely. Thomas Van Den Driessche’s “How to Be a Photographer in Four Lessons” uses faded photo-booth strips to satirize the pretensions of photographers. In “How to Be a Contemporary Photographer,” for example, the instructions stipulate: “Be overconfident! Do not allow humor in your work (except if your name is M. Parr), always be very serious and maintain a total mystery on your next photographic project.” This is a sort of interactive piece: visitors can use the old photo booth near the entrance to create their own work and enter it in a contest whose prizes include being exhibited along with Van Den Driessche’s work.

Films by photographers are being shown in the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin’s auditorium throughout the exhibition, and there will be projections of photographers’ films in the garden June 26-28 at 8:30pm.

Heidi Ellison

Pavillon Carré de Baudouin: 121, rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris. Métro: Gambetta. “Histoires” exhibition: June 13-August 2. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm, until 10pm June 26-28. Film screenings in the garden: June 26-28, 8:30pm. Free admission. www.carredebaudouin.fr www.lesnuitsphotographiques.com

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